Baucus Thinks Health Care Rollout Can be Fixed

By Beacon Staff

HELENA — After warning months ago that a “train wreck” was coming in implementing the nation’s new health care law, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus now says he thinks the rollout can get back on track after a bumbling beginning.

The Montana Democrat who helped write the health overhaul won’t discuss delaying provisions of the law, such as the individual mandate, because of the problems. But he will be looking for an explanation from Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at a Wednesday oversight hearing for the bugs in the website that have prevented people from enrolling in the new insurance plans.

Baucus said in a Monday interview with The Associated Press that he wants to avoid a “blame game” at the hearing. He said the overhaul is still a “very good law.”

“My goal is to make this thing work and explore ways to accomplish that,” Baucus said.

Baucus played an integral role in the development of the overhaul, writing what in 2009 he described as a “uniquely American” blend of private insurance and government subsidies to provide coverage for everyone.

“The deadline for having insurance is months away. The goal should be to make it work,” Baucus said. “Delay would deny health insurance to some people.”

The veteran Democrat took plenty of heat back home for his involvement in crafting the law — both from the left angered about the reliance on the insurance industry and the right upset at a new government program. But all along, Baucus has maintained the overhaul will be well liked once it is implemented and people see its benefits.

The six-term Democrat announced earlier this year that he will not run again in 2014, when he will be 72, and will walk away from his influence as chairman of the committee that plays a key role in spending and tax issues. Baucus has said that decision was made to give him time to pursue interests outside of politics.

Baucus, who has said implementing the law remains a top priority until he retires, resisted any criticism of the Obama administration or the White House over the rollout. After Baucus warned of the “train wreck” in April, he met frequently with the White House and agency officials to discuss oversight issue.

“It is easy to be a Monday morning quarterback. The past is the past. I just think it makes more sense to focus on getting a solution here,” Baucus said. “Basically I do think this can be fixed without too much difficulty.”

Back home in Montana, the state’s largest private insurer recently notified customers of a 3.5 percent rate increase in January it blamed on the new law. Across the nation, some people have seen their existing policies cancelled, and in cases where they earn too much for subsidies, have found that replacement coverage on the exchanges will be more expensive.

But Baucus said the only issue he is interested in dealing with Wednesday are the website problems.

“When there are issues that must be addressed, let’s address them. Right now, it’s getting the exchange up and running and helping the administration do that,” Baucus said. “It is very important we don’t lose sight of that.”